As parents, our number one priority is to protect our children from being harmed. We are always teaching our kids how to interact safely in the world: don’t talk to strangers, wear safety gear when playing sports or riding bikes, wash hands before eating, and many other things keeping them healthy and safe. While focus tends to be on the physical world, we may forget about the digital world.
How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
The internet and digital world may have been new to us as kids and young adults, but now connectivity is a part of our everyday lives. You are hard-pressed to see anyone these days who doesn’t have a smart device or computer available to them, and it’s likely that everyone in your family spends at least some of their day interacting online. This is especially true of our kids, and we need to make sure that that whole family is staying safe online.
The internet for kids these days is very different than it was for us growing up. It’s imperative that we learn about today’s internet world as it is used by kids, and then teach them how to navigate it safely. Topics such as online stranger danger, threats of cyberbullying, and online security are all things we need to be educating ourselves and our children on.
Online Stranger Danger
While we worry about our kids being snatched up in the outside world while walking to school or playing at the park, there is an even bigger danger lurking online. Rather than a surprise kidnapping, strangers online will take their time gaining your child’s trust and lure them out of their own free will. This is why it’s imperative you learn about the tactics that online predators are taking these day and teach your children how to stay safe.
When we were younger, online predators mainly prowled chat rooms and message boards, but these days there are so many more avenues for them to use to find their prey. Now there are countless avenues for online predators to find your children, the most common being the different available social media networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok (formerly known as Musical.ly), and other social apps and websites.
The first line of defense is to make sure that any accounts your children might have are set as private, as well as telling them they are only allowed to friend and follow people they know in real life. If anyone they don’t know tries to contact or friend them through these services, have them tell you right away so you can block them. Also instruct you kids that even though their settings might be private, they should never give away personal information, such as school name, home address, and any other information that may allude to their location. For other websites, such as online games, chat rooms, and message boards, monitor which sites they frequent and be persistent that they are careful with their personal information and who they talk with.
Bullying has been around forever, but before cellphones and the internet, there used to be refuge from it once a kid left their school. Now, bullying has transcended the school yard and can follow kids wherever they go. Many of us just missed the onset of extreme cyberbullying, but these days it’s prevalent and dangerous. When bullying is able to reach a child or teen 24/7, they may begin to feel hopeless and at a loss for how to escape their bullies. This leads to devastating effects on their mental health and, if not addressed, could end tragically.
The best thing you can do to help your children deal with cyberbullying is to always have open communication with them. Many kids who feel like they have no one to turn to may suffer in silence until it’s too late, so always make sure that your children feel comfortable coming to you with their problems.
Also, talk to your kids about the harmful nature of bullying. While we always worry about our kids getting bullied, we may not think about them being the bully. We know that there are long-lasting mental health effects on victims of bullying, and kids need to understand that their words and actions matter. Teach your children to be kind, check in with their teachers to see how they are with their peers, and monitor their internet and social media usage. Whether they are being bullied or are the bully, you will find out and be able to address it further.
Helpful books for parents on how to keep kids safe online (affiliate links):
No matter who is spending time on the computer, surfing the internet is like walking through a minefield. Viruses, malware, and spyware are ever-present threats to our computers and devices, and one wrong site visit or shady download could lead to your information being stolen and your computer going kaput. Make sure your family’s devices all have strong firewalls and anti-virus software. Also, educate your whole family on how to avoid suspicious downloads, like never opening an email when you don’t recognize the sender, and never downloading a program if you don’t know it’s origin. Additionally, always be careful of what new sites you or your family visit, as just clicking on an unknown or otherwise shady site could mean devastation for your personal information and your computer.
Also be sure to teach your kids about keeping their personal information safe. Though you’ve already stressed the importance of private accounts and real-friend-only accounts to combat online predators, you still need to educate them on the dangers of identity theft. Any personal information that is put on the internet is fuel for cybercriminals, even something as seemingly innocent as a Facebook quiz asking for historic personal details — the same questions that secure websites ask to verify identities.
We live in a digital age, and there is no avoiding it. The internet is here to stay and will only become more integral to our lives. We need to take teaching our children about online safety as seriously as we do their real-world safety. The internet is a big part of our children’s real world and will continue to be for the rest of their lives, and it’s our jobs as parents to make sure that they can navigate it safely.
Helpful kids books for talking about online safety for kids:
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.
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